All Aboard The Magic Bus
"Chris believed that if you knew exactly where your adventure was leading, it wasn't much of an adventure."
– Carine McCandless, sister of Christopher "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless
What drives us to defy (or succumb to) death in our insatiable thirst for certain places of reverence?
Not long ago, the Magic Bus inadvertently claimed another victim, as 24-year-old Veranika Nikanava, a tourist from Belarus, drowned trying to cross the the daunting Teklanika River in Healy, Alaska. She and her husband were undertaking the difficult journey in reaching the famous Magic Bus, whereby almost 30 years ago, the body of Christopher McCandless had been found after he had starved to death.
Made famous by Sean Penn's 2007 movie, Into the Wild (a film adaptation of Jon Krakauer's 1996 book by the same name), McCandless' story has resonated with adventure-seekers for decades. The Magic Bus has since come to symbolize not only his personal defiance of regimented culture but the spirit of adventurism in itself.
Artwork by Martina Deiuri
This need for personal pilgrimage and this self-imposed but relentlessly intrinsic desire to venture into the unknown calls to everyone at some point in time - but what draws so many there? What fuels this fire?
The world is peppered with these remote, treacherously secluded areas that seem to be fractal in nature - they can rest just outside of city limits and require some small semblance of a detour or they can take days to reach, if not be unreachable all together. This goes beyond the glory of Nepal's Everest or the quiet reverence of Australia's Uluru - this is something subjectively inexplicable - a lurching need to explore and discover, to search for the unsearchable.
Interestingly, as enigmatic as these locations and landmarks seem to be, they all possess one obvious common denominator: the requirement of a journey that leads the wanderer off the beaten path.
Because it demands that we step outside of routine and that we deviate far and away from comfort, that we claim a quest as our own. It's for these same reasons that we're unsatisfied by the lost magnificence of a worn down tourist destination or massively exploited (and templated) excursion.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
– Henry David Thoreau
In her engagingly inquisitive article, Chasing Alexander Supertramp, Eva Holland asks a similar question. Setting upon her own journey into the depths of understanding this fascination, Eva made the precarious expedition to the Magic Bus and found within it a Leo Tolstoy quote, scribed by marker into the metal ceiling by another pilgrim:
"I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a super abundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life."
Eva eventually supplements this clue with a depper understanding from the words of Billie McCandless, mother to Christopher:
“I think everybody has this inner person that wants to have their own world, you know, and of course fulfill their own dreams, and would like to do it inconspicuously … especially young people. If they’re interested in something, why does there have to be a rule about it? ‘Why can’t I just find out about it? Why can’t I just experience it?’”
Photograph by Theresa Augello
Alexander Supertramp's (McCandless' moniker) legacy still rides the rusted shrine that is the Fairbanks City Transit System Bus #142, calling out the need for adventure, for personal pilgrimage and self-discovery.
Because, really, we're all protagonists and heroes in our own sagas. We don't know exactly what it is that we seek, we just know that it lies outside the bounds of a one dimensional existence. That's what pulls us from within.
Acknowledgements and references:
Cover illustration and artwork by Martina Deiuri
Photograph by Theresa Augello